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Muslim Girl Magazine: A Review

Zainab (AnonyMouse)



2magnov00coverSometime last year, I was passing by the magazine rack of a local drugstore when something caught my eye. I turned around. I stared. I blinked. I stared again.

It was big. It was glossy. It was colourful. It kinda looked like LouLou or Glamour or some other teen girl magazine… except that it had… it had… it had a hijaabi on the cover! It was… Muslim Girl Magazine.

To Enlighten, Celebrate and Inspire.”A magazine for Muslim girls in the West, showcasing their realities and encouraging them to greater heights.

I admit it, I’m a sucker. They got me at ‘Muslim Girl Magazine.’ I grabbed it, stared at it some more, and then folded it to my chest with the kind of emotion you usually feel when you’ve finally met someone whom you dreamt of for years, and now here they are right in front you. And then I had to fork out sixteen dollars to take it home, but what the hey. My joy at finding a fancy magazine aimed towards, and featuring, Muslim girls blinded me to any concern about dents to my wallet. There was also some vague notion about my duty to the readers of MuslimMatters to bring attention to and analyse relevant media issues… but mostly I was just excited.

I paid. I took it home. And then I experienced the sinking feeling of disappointment that you experience after you find out that the person you dreamed of meeting, whom you’ve now finally met, isn’t really what you were expecting or hoping for after all.

Before I launch into a ruthless and scathing critique, let me first say that I think the premise of the magazine is wonderful, and I commend its creators for marshaling the resources and talents to put together such a professional and high-quality publication. The layout is fantastic, the photography is top-notch, the entire thing is impressive and, at a glance,  it’s almost everything I dreamed that a Muslim girl’s magazine would look like.

Until you get to the content.

The Good Stuff

Let me be fair and at least give credit where credit is due. The magazine begins with an editorial introducing the issue’s theme, which is Ramadhaan. Features included in the magazine were the “Ask A Girl!” column’s thoughts and tips from readers on how to kick bad habits during Ramadhaan; medical experts’ suggestions on how to eat well, stay healthy, and benefit from fasting in every way; a reflection on the spirit of Ramadhaan; and a report on the growing phenomenon of high school and university Fast-A-Thons, sponsored by the Muslim Students’ Associations. Fun pieces included a “Ramadhaan I Am” quiz, a “Top 10 Ramadhaan Resolutions” list, and short anecdotes submitted by readers about their Ramadhaan experiences with friends, family, and school.

Additional pieces of the magazine also caught my interest, and I read them carefully. The “Muslim Girl Mailbox” surprised me somewhat, as it revealed how diverse the magazine’s readership really is – from an Indian Catholic girl and a non-hijaab wearing ‘average Muslimah’ to munaqqabaat. An interview with a Muslim girl studying martial arts with her father and uncle was enjoyable, as it reminded me of my own brief stint in the field. Also appreciated was a full-length interview with sister Ingrid Mattson, who had just been elected as president of ISNA, as well as a short article titled “Finding the Prophet in His People,” by sister Ingrid herself.

Other commendable sections included a Health & Lifestyle Q-&-A column, a feature on cybersafety for Muslim girls, and a full-length report on the admirable work of a Muslim girl who single-handedly founded a non-profit charitable organization for Iraqi children whose lives were devastated by the war. A multi-cultural recipe corner had me drooling. Finally, the travel section was great (a tour through Turkey), and I really liked a cute little page titled “GirlSpace,” about the girls and their relationship with their masaajid.

The Bad Stuff

With all the good stuff in the magazine, I thought at first that the bad stuff would be minimal, or at least easy to gloss over. As I kept going through the magazine and thinking about its readers, however, I just couldn’t let it go.

First of all, I was disappointed with the fashion spread. I’m as taken by sparkly shiny pretty things as the next girl out there, but personally I didn’t think that a fashion spread featuring made-up, de-hijaabed girls was quite appropriate. Okay, I get the whole “not all Muslim girls wear hijaab” and “modesty is the key, just keep covered and you can still look gorgeous!” thing, but I still don’t agree with it. There are many other ways to showcase pretty clothes with showcasing the pretty girls along with them.

What I found even more upsetting, though, was the inclusion of product and media reviews that not only mentioned, but praised, musicians and other other dubious, if not outright haraam, characters/ behaviours. There’s an entire spread on “Grammy Award-winning Songwriter Zuriani Zonneveld,” a page dedicated to music as part of the “Hot List” section, and a review of the TV show “Gossip Girls.” As someone involved in trying to encourage young Muslim girls to not listen to music and pursue more halaal forms of entertainment, I didn’t appreciate this publication – which should be helping me out here – giving a totally contrary message.

Nor was I impressed with “Muslim Girl of the Month,” and “Muslim Girl International,” where the girls featured weren’t exactly what I’d encourage my girls to look up to and follow. No doubt, it’s great that Muslim girls are getting more exposure and in a positive light, but I for one do expect that practicing Islam is one of the main requirements in order for someone to be considered a role model.


The magazine has a lot of promise and potential and does deliver some measure of material that is quite impressive; however, it also has an undeniably “progressive/ modernist” slant to it which I find a major drawback. As much as I love seeing a magazine aimed at Muslim girls, employing techniques that other mass media use to draw in the readers, I would be very, very hesitant to recommend this magazine to Muslim girls. It may, perhaps, be a way of inviting and attracting the attention of those interested in Islam, or those with only a tentative connection to the Deen; but I do think that for the majority of Muslim families who are trying to encourage their daughters and sisters to be stronger, this isn’t the best magazine for them to turn to.

While I think that MGM is indeed a ground-breaking publication in that it’s dared to try something utterly different from the mainstream media in terms of content while relating to it in style, the mentality behind it isn’t one that I support. Insha’Allah, I hope that in the future there will be more Muslim-centred publications that combine a solid, more Deen-y agenda with an element of fun and fancy, that can have a greater, more positive effect on the Muslim girls of this Ummah.

Next up: A review of SISTERS magazine!

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young Canadian Muslimah, originally from the West Coast of Canada. She writes about whatever concerns her about the state of the Muslim Ummah, drawing upon her experiences and observations within her own local community. You may contact her at She is is no longer a writer for



  1. Avatar

    Abu Ninja

    May 20, 2009 at 10:26 AM

    Well what can I say except..

    “The battle for hearts and minds” by Imam Anwar al-Awlaki comes to mind.

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    May 20, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    As a caveat, I’v never seen this magazine, so my basis for the following post is simply from reading the author’s post.

    Although I fully support criticism from the perspective of encouraging dialogue in the Muslim community, I found this review to be particularly unhelpful in that it decontextualized the “good” and the “bad” points from the current lack of alternatives available today for Muslim women when it comes to magazines on newsstands.

    After weighing the subjective “good” and “bad” no clear analysis was given as to what criteria might be more objectively important for the community to consider, nor was there any effort made to suggest “solutions” as to what potential readers could do if they have a problem with some of the content. Why not discuss the organization behind the magazine and list an address where people could write with suggestions and feedback? Simple things like this would have made this “review” more useful from a reader’s perspective. Instead it is the typical complaint we have come to expect from Muslims – one without a solution or real analysis of the problems that the subject of the complaint is seeking to address.

    As to the previous post: So called “Imam” Anwar Awlaki brings to mind everything that is wrong with the understanding of Islam by Muslims today, to balanced Muslims at least.

    • Avatar


      May 20, 2009 at 5:09 PM

      Can you please expand on what you said about “Imam” Anwar Awlaki?

  4. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    Thanks for the review. You are right; fashion and couture can be showcased without actually showcasing women. That’s how it’s done in SISTERS Magazine. When will you review that for us? :-)
    Jazakillahu Khairan.

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    May 20, 2009 at 12:13 PM

    People still read magazines?

    • Avatar


      June 3, 2009 at 4:29 PM


      Women magazines are still popular in print.

      We did a market research and one sister put it this way: Even if I don’t read it, simply putting it on my coffee table feels good. (She was talking about the glossy print of SISTERS).

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    Yusuf Smith

    May 20, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    Sixteen bucks? That sounds like A LOT for a magazine. Not that I’m that familiar with US prices, but here, we have a glossy Muslim magazine (Emel) aimed mostly at women which costs £3.50 or something, and that’s about $5 or $6 (or somewhere in between) at current exchange rates.

    Although it doesn’t promote music, it has a few problems which put me off buying it even though it’s the only Muslim magazine out there since the demise of Q-News and Islamica. It’s much too middle-class and promotes too much luxury dunya, a lot of which has nothing to do with Islam. And there’s the modesty issues … but then, not all Muslim women wear hijab and some do listen to music. It’s a matter of being able to keep the magazine afloat, and the only way they can do it, I guess, is to be inclusive. At least the music doesn’t just play when you open the magazine!

  7. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    Had you recommended the magazine, I would have read your article and gone on to the next one on MuslimMatters – without a second thought. But now that you say that you would *not* recommend this publication, after mentioning that it indeed has some ‘good stuff’, I feel compelled to buy it myself and reach my own conclusions.

  8. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    I think SISTERS magazine tops this any other womans magazine to date. It has rich content without compromising the deen, its not ashamed of itself nor is it apologetic to any culture or society. It stands on its own and is confident throughout.

    I found too many liberal magazines like Elan and others just living off the ‘Muslim’ name. We are not a cultural sect or tribe, we are a people who believe in a concept, a way of life. So magazines like Elan fail.

    Emel in the UK – started off well, although looks brilliant has lost so much readership and has no appeal to the mass of Muslims, simply because it has become more and more liberal. Probably because of a desperate attempt to find relevant content and thus is forced to move to non-practising Muslims.

    Again the ‘muslim’ tribal aspect is catered for. I want a magazine that talks to me because I’m Muslim by faith not by culture or tribe or just NAME.

    Thats why I like SISTERS.

    (no I dont work for SISTERS!)

  9. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    I had a similar type of experience as you.

    I was putting my shoes on at the local masjid when I came across the mail-in subscription postcard for Muslim Girl Magazine. I was very impressed by the design of the card, because like the magazine, it was very professional and well made. Also, there was only sleek typography design on the card, and I thought maybe this is a magazine that is intending to empower sisters in a way that’s very dignified. I took it home with me to check it out and see what it was all about.

    That’s when I saw the website, the way they have Muslim girl models very decked out, and promptly closed the page.

    Sure the magazine isn’t for me, and men shouldn’t be looking at women who are dressed up like that. But it’s not the issue of “men could see it!” vs. “well, they shouldn’t be looking, anyway!” that concerns me. Rather, it’s the mentality that it brings.

    That Muslim girls should be so into beautifying themselves, looking super cute and accessorizing, and literally adorning themselves. It just doesn’t sit well with the likes of Surah Noor 24:31 “…and do not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers…”

    Aside from that, what you’ve mentioned about the focus on issues like Ramadan and other beneficial aspects, I commend our sisters for their efforts and I ask Allah to accept their work for His pleasure. At the same time, I hope they can correct what I respectfully disagree with.

    We ask Allah to help us do what best pleases Him.

  10. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    Let’s encourage the efforts and be positive, these people are working hard to provide an alternative to much worse magazines filled with gossip and fahisha. If you have suggestions, I am sure they have a contact number.



  11. Zainab (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab (AnonyMouse)

    May 20, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    @ AnonyMuslim
    This post is a review of a publication, not a “this is what’s wrong with the Muslims and we need to do x. y, and z” to fix it. That being said, I do believe that I gave credit where credit was due for good work and the efforts behind it – and I don’t think that pointing out certain areas which I felt were incorrect or lacking was simply nonconstructive thinking.

    It was suggested that I contact those behind the scenes – however, I can tell you from now that it wouldn’t have done any good. The people behind the magazine have their own mentality and agenda (as do everyone else!), and it is stated clearly in the magazine itself (in responses to letters) that the mag. is not out to ‘preach’ or propogate one viewpoint, but rather to be ‘accepting’ of the entire reality of Muslims in the West… including those things which I, for one, consider to be haraam.

    Further, I am indeed acutely aware of the lack of appropriate material geared towards Muslim women in the media; indeed, it is for that reason that I make a point of searching for such publications. However, lacking something doesn’t mean that we can be happy about everything and anything when something like this shows up: it’s subject to as much criticism as anything else.

    @ Yusuf Smith
    Yes, unfortunately the Canadian/ American market in magazines is quite expensive. I suppose some excuse can be given about the price since it’s pretty hefty and full of content, as well as the fancy photography and layout (not to mention relatively fledgeling), but when I found out the price for SISTERS in comparison, I admit to feeling rather ripped off.
    I was hoping to get a copy of Emel for review as well, but it’s not available here in Canada and I didn’t recieve a response from the company itself.

    Just to warn you, the magazine is currently out of print due to financial difficulties… although apparently they’ll send you back issues if you ask (and pay).

    @ Sadaf and Jamila
    Insha’Allah a review of SISTERS will be coming up soon(ish) :)

  12. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    JazakAllah Khayr Sr. Zainab for the balanced review :)

    I’ve also read the MGM and had problems with it. I agree with you about how the fashion section kinda sorta promotes Muslim girls to wear clothes that don’t jive with Islamic standards. I was also surprised at some of the people they showcased as ‘role-models’ for Muslim girls to follow and the reviews about pop culture (music, TV shows and movies) I would also not recommend it, especially for younger Muslim pre-teens.

    Kudos AnonyMouse! :)

  13. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 4:30 PM

    I’m sure its a good alternative for teenage Muslim girls than Vogue or whatever. I’d prob wanna preview it first and run it through my wifey, but if its legit, I’d buy it for my daughter and encourage it. I mean, its for girls-only anyways, right? (That is, when I actually get married and have a daughter and my daughter gets older)

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    May 20, 2009 at 4:31 PM

    I am just curious, did you contact Muslim Girl Magazine at all and ask them to respond to some of your concerns? I, for one, wasn’t even aware that this magazine was still around. I wonder if it has gone quarterly or bi-annual – the price used to be much, much lower (about $5 or 6 US).

    A suggestion for you for future reviews – including SISTERS – please do let us know about their customer service and reliability. Some of these more “deen oriented, mashAllaah” magazines have appalling track records as far as cashing checks and not sending subscriptions, publishing issues when they say they’re going to, dealing fairly and in a timely matter with advertisers, updating paid subscribers on the magazine’s status when it goes on ‘hiatus’, not answering emails or voice mails, etc. I’m not naming names – that’s for you blogging journalists to do, after you investigate this matter. Is it any wonder, then, that most of them can’t seem to make a go of it for more than a few years? The only magazine — make that ISLAMIC Magazine — that I did not have this experience with was Azizah, but I was told that they are going out of business and having some other problems.

  15. Zainab (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab (AnonyMouse)

    May 20, 2009 at 5:24 PM

    @ Asmaa
    As I mentioned previously, while I personally had no contact with the editors of the magazine, the Letters to the Editor section clued me in on what their response would be – there were a couple letters in that issue that actually expressed the same kind of concerns that I had about it, and the reply from the editors was that the magazine tried to reach and appeal to all Muslim women from different backgrounds/ levels/ opinions… basically, that they weren’t going to stop including pictures of made-up girls or interviews with musicians.

    Insha’Allah I’ll try to write and post the review of SISTERS soon, but here’s a hint: I loved it! And their customer service really is fantastic, jazaahumAllahu khairan.

    Also, if there are any other magazines specifically that you’d like me to review, drop me a line at anonymouse(at) and insha’Allah I’ll try to get a copy and do my duty to the readers of MM :)

  16. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 8:14 PM

    salaam aleikum,

    my criticism of this review is that it didn’t go far enough. One can transparently look at the issues of revealed women, music, promotion of western TV shows etc. between the covers. Even worse is the concepts and ideas espoused by some of the “Muslim” writers, many of whom are on-record as being out-and-out neo-cons and leaders of the “progressive” (pro-regressive) Muslim nonsense (i.e. support for homosexual Muslims, women led prayer, and de-politicized “spiritualized” sufism).

    this is the link to their “senior contributing writers” page. 3 names immediately pop out:

    1. Mona ElTahawy aka Wolfowitz’s darling and RAND pet….

    rather than go on a long diatribe, I thought I’d let her own words do the talking:

    a. Palestine is NOT a Muslim issue.

    b. “No such thing as shar’iah”

    c. Absolute contempt for hijab, in this piece

    This blog does an excellent job of “Detoxifying” the sickness in this secularist cum Muslim.

    2. Raheel Raza:

    a. Say NO to the burka campaign here.

    b. interview for David Hororwitz’s pro-zionist FrontpageMag here
    (one of the promoters of “Islamofascism”)

    c. “islamist” role in Canadian elections

    (again every article/blog submitted is for right wing/zionist/neo-con promoting blogs/sites)

    3. Pamela K. Taylor,

    a. her own positions on “women leading prayers” “hijab being fardh” etc. in her own words

    b. co-chair of “Progressive Muslim Union of North America”, organization, it subsequently died a long desired death, as its megalomaniac leader, Tareq Fatah, ran it into the ground.
    It was/is well exposed here


    just for review I think re-referring back to the text of the divine revelation of the RAND report here would be of use for our secular followers and their supporters (however few there may be).

    This is to say nothing of the opaque financing of this magazine. As long as these people are in any way associated with this magazine, it is not one to be mildly critiqued but actively and vociferously shunned into oblivion. It would actually be better (from an Islamic and political point of view) to have Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, Ariel Sharon, et al write a “Muslim” girls magazine openly expressing their hatred of all things Islam than to have their deluded lackeys and pets do the same.

    If these are the types of ‘Muslim’ women writing, would you really want your daughter to grow up espousing kufr of this variety and trying to pass this off as Islam as any of the 3 above do???

    I rest my case.

    salaam aleikum,

    • Avatar


      May 20, 2009 at 10:31 PM

      good points…worthwhile points to consider. it brings to mind the rand muslim concept.

      ukhti zainab make sure you consider in your SISTERS magazine (mashallah) review whether or not it’s recommended for youth… there is a severe lack of good material out there for youth that is “cool, hip, modern and islamic…” at the same time!

  17. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 10:13 PM

    How about a review of Azizah magazine?

  18. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 10:44 PM

    Q news and Islamica have both tanked?!


    Didn’t know that.

  19. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 11:00 PM

    I don’t like getting into the position of defending people with whom I don’t agree on many isues, but a cursory review of what Sameer posted will show that he is either lying or misinformed with respect to his attack on Mona ElTahawy allegedly saying “there is no such thing as Shari’ah.”

    In fact in the article he posted, she clearly says and provides evidence for the sound reasoning that a “universal” intrepretation of what defines Shari’ah doesn’t exist. Only a narrow-minded literalist with little to no understanding of Islam would distort that statement and conclude that it is an attack on Shari’ah, and we obviously have no shortage of people who fall into that category in the Muslim community.

    As a side point in the article that Sameer posted, Mona was responding to a rabid Hizb-ut-Tahir follower’s statement that the so called “Shari’ah of God,” free Speech, and Democracy are incompatible, what a joke.

  20. Avatar


    May 20, 2009 at 11:29 PM

    >I don’t like getting into the position of defending people with whom I don’t agree on many issues, but a cursory >review of what Sameer posted will show that he is either lying or misinformed with respect to his attack on >Mona ElTahawy allegedly saying “there is no such thing as Shari’ah.”

    1. I didn’t know there was any point on which you disagreed with El Tahawy on, certainly not from any of your comments.

    2. Obviously you can’t read very well..this is taken from the NY Times article i posted 5th paragraph down:

    When I realized he was serious I dragged out my usual defense to his line of thinking: Whose version of Shariah, I asked him? The religious leaders in Iran? Turkey? Saudi Arabia? Egypt, my country of birth?

    The Shariah of God,” he adamantly replied.

    There is no such thing,” I told the young man, who identified himself as a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the radical Islamist group.

    3. Feel more than free to provide any form of spin you can as to explain to other Muslims on here (with Islamic evidences):
    a. Why Palestine is NOT a Muslim issue (but defending Israel for the neo-cons clearly is).
    b. Why Hijab is NOT fardh nor a part of Islam (according to you and El Tahawy as well as other neo-cons).


    PS – Paging “Dr. M”, if your out there this is a pro-regressive wanting to masquerade as if secularisim and Islam are the same.

  21. Avatar


    May 21, 2009 at 3:27 AM

    I applaud the fact that your review was balanced. Unfortunately most authors would not have resisted the temptation to go on a huge all-caps rant. Thank you.

    There are 3 things I want to comment on. First, the music question. There are many sincere and religious Muslims that listen to music. Music is even played at many large conferences. If you disagree with this, that is fine, and thus you may think that MGM’s music references are inappropriate for people who think that music is haram. But I don’t think this is a strong point of contention, since you wouldn’t advocate not attending a conference on the basis of the fact that it has a concert with music (I hope). I think we should accept the fact that many Muslims are choosing an extreme minority opinion that is turning into a more widely accepted one. And move on.

    Second, the non-hijab question. I think it is obvious that the people behind MGM don’t share the same approach as most of us here at MM. It is fair to criticize their stance on issues like Hijab, but at the end of the day, I don’t think MGM is going to convince practicing Muslims that they ought to take off their Hijabs. They are not going to win the issue. On the other hand I think things like MGM have a good chance of uplifting the spirits of young Muslim sisters who are borderline – they are doubting that their religion can be hip and can fit in in their society, and maybe even doubting that they need to be Muslim. This sort of thing can boost their spirits. Maybe MGM is not for you or me or the readers of MM. Maybe it is for another readership altogether, and if so, it should be viewed from the perspective of its impact on that readership, not on our natural reaction to it.

    Finally, the issue of promoting material things, excessive makeup and beautification, etc. I think this is worthy of criticism since this should not just be an issue for Muslims but for all women. I was once in a Halal restaurant and they had MGM. I flipped through and found the pictures ridiculous, just like the people on fashion runways look ridiculous. (Who wears those clothes/makeup in real life?!?!) Everyone looked fake. I don’t think a Muslim magazine needs to imitate the ideas of non-Muslim ones in order to succeed.

    That said, I return to the bolded line above. If MGM does nothing for you, no need to buy it. If it helps you, then great. Maybe the gist of your review should not have been “I wouldn’t recommend this to Muslim youth” but “This Muslim is not very good for readers like me, who are at a certain maturity and comfort zone in their religion. For us, we need something truer to our values, truer to what we know Islam to be. But hopefully this magazine can benefit those who are in a more shaky position.” I guess you said that to some extent, but you waffled between the two approaches.

    At the end of the day, thanks for writing a civil review.

    • Zainab (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab (AnonyMouse)

      May 21, 2009 at 2:57 PM

      Thank you for the kind words :)

      With regards to the points you brought up, especially those about the music and hijaab, then to be honest, I have no intention of letting something like that slide.
      Yes, perhaps there is a “difference of opinion” about music for some people – but I am firmly of the believe that it is unequivocably haraam. So too with hijaab.

      As I mentioned previously, I approach all self-proclaimed “Islamic” books/ magazines/ articles/ lectures/ whatever with a certain mentality, and so I unapologetically review and critique them according to my mindset. While I understand that they may not be big issues for others, they are still important to me and it is because of the impact that the magazine can have on others that I am so concerned. The goal of making Islam seem “hip” and “fit into society” is one which in and of itself is debatable; but even if one chooses to try and do so, then I firmly believe that can be done without compromising certain principles which I do hold to be important.

      “Maybe MGM is not for you or me or the readers of MM. Maybe it is for another readership altogether, and if so, it should be viewed from the perspective of its impact on that readership, not on our natural reaction to it.”

      This is certainly an interesting point. However, as I said above, my mentality is that there’s a way to impact a certain readership – even/ esp. if they’re at a different level/ maturity/ comfort zone as ‘us’ – without showcasing/ encouraging/ making acceptable what is not acceptable (as I see it).
      In the end, it does go back to the agenda of those behind the magazine and the message they’re trying to send to their readership. Some aspects of it I agree with it (in that they’re trying to reach out to young Muslims who need a boost), but the way they are doing so, I strongly disagree with… and that which I consider to be wrong, I do not want to have taught/ exposed/ encouraged amongst those whom I wish the very best for.

      Once again, thank you for comment :)

      • Avatar

        h. ahmed

        May 21, 2009 at 4:39 PM

        as salaam alaikum

        I strongly agree with ‘student’s comment.

        Yes many of us may believe music is haraam, or that hijaab is fard, or that tv/movies for the most part are evil/corrupting – but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of young Muslims do listen to music, dont wear hijab, and do watch tv/movies.

        This magazine seemed to be a great alternative to the other garbage that exists in the media which is entirely haraam (filled with sex ,etc.).

        We should stop being do divisive (categorizing Muslims based on their level of Islam (practice) )- and become more encompassing – inviting all types of Muslims to work together on issues – even those we disagree with on fundamental issues. This doesnt mean we have to compromise our core beliefs, but leave those issues aside for the purpose of advancing what we do agree with.

        Yes, i wouldnt want my younger sister or daughter reading about the latest storylines on gossip girl or what not [I have no idea what gossip girl is about and if its even a bad show or not , but im assuming it is] – but i would much rather that she reads this type of magazine (and herself have the wisdom and intellect to stay away from such Tv shows) – rather than the alternatives.

        THere is room for Muslims at all levels to contribute to the advancement of our ummah. Instead of looking for reasons to divide us – or denounce a person’s actions because of finding some flaws in their works/past – we should embrace the good and help promote it.

        It is a shame that all of these Muslim magazines are failing – and im sure a lot has to do with Muslims hating on these magazines for being too liberal, too intellectual, too spiritual, not spiritual enough, etc. The Muslim community is diverse and we will NEVER agree on everything – and we should embrace the diversity and respect our differences of opinion – yet at the same time encourage brotherhood/sisterhood and coming together to promote common goals and ideals.

        Meanwhile the Muslim American Culture fails to develop and develop and society is continually getting worse and more difficult for young Muslims.

        And Allah (swt) knows best.

        • Zainab (AnonyMouse)

          Zainab (AnonyMouse)

          May 21, 2009 at 4:55 PM

          It is a shame that all of these Muslim magazines are failing

          Not true, actually – both al-Jumu’ah and SISTERS magazine are (strongly) Islamically oriented, use language that is easy to understand and enjoyable to read, and are both going strong masha’Allah.

          Meanwhile the Muslim American Culture fails to develop

          I disagree with this also – although the North American/ Western Muslim culture is still working out a lot of kinks, I think that masha’Allah we’re really on our way to establishing something distinct and uniquely Muslim. (I think I had a post on this a while ago).

          In the end, everyone’s got their own opinion on this, and may Allah guide us all to what is most correect, ameen :)

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    May 21, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    As-Salam Alaykum.

    Brother Amad
    — may this find you in the best of health and Imaan.

    I have not read any of this article, but I just want to say: please edit the picture to remove the sister in hijab. MM already gets enough flack from the extremists. No reason to give them something else to beat down MM with. Plus, it’s not proper anyways (which is a more important reason to remove it).

    Fi Aman Allah

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      May 28, 2009 at 1:17 PM

      You can tell the girl does her eyebrows too..their just too perfect! And we all know Allah cursed those women who pluck their eyebrows, so why have someone whom Allah has cursed displayed. Sister Zainab, please cover the face of this girl.

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        June 2, 2009 at 9:10 AM

        cover her body…..she got something tying her waist…

        may Allah forgive us

  24. Amad


    May 21, 2009 at 4:50 PM

    J, not my article, not my territory :)

    I should remind everyone that as Sr. Zainab said, this is her take and her review of the magazine. By no means is MM’s take (as a whole) on the magazine. Every writer has the opportunity to give his or her own respective opinions. So that is what it is, unless the post is explicitly signed off by MM.

    P.S. I am also not saying that I disagree with the post either or that others on MM’s team disagree with it; I haven’t read the magazine, though Mona’s presence bothers me significantly. I think music is lower on my issues compared to presence of staunch secularists who go to great lengths to attack mainstream Islam.

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      May 22, 2009 at 3:32 AM

      OK bro Amad. May Allah [swt] reward you and the rest of MM for your tireless efforts. And thanks for almost giving me a headache by posting the YQ article on his recent conversion.

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    Siraaj Muhammad

    May 21, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    I will not subscribe to this magazine for my impressionable 4 year old daughter now that I’ve read this review.


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      May 22, 2009 at 7:20 PM

      Young girls will be looking through seventeen or cosmo…I think we all have to embrace this Americanized version of Islam. It wasn’t around when we were growing up but the future generation will gravitate towards this because they are growing up here. So either we accept and modify it or we stay in denial.

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        May 22, 2009 at 8:01 PM

        Americans (and many Muslims living in America included) are also committing zinna, should we also accept, embrace, and celebrate that with a magazine too?

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      June 15, 2009 at 12:07 AM

      May be you should give Recess Kids a shot :)

  26. Avatar


    May 22, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    This magazine sounds very similar to the magazine from UK “Emel”

    I was impressed with the concept of Emel when i first heard of it but then i saw a issue of “emel” that read “Salaam Music Festival” and how they went on saying that Islam is all tolerant etc and they were basically backing the promotion of a music festival that had qawals from Pakistan, derwish’s from Turkey and similar musicians from all over the muslims world.

    Magazines like these should be scrutinized and curbed because they are trying distort Islam just to sell a few glossies. No wonder the west loves them and encourages them because they promote all things material and all things which are haram in Islam.

    I dont think women should be posing in such magazines, a women’s true hijab is to cover her face now if she is covering her entire body but smiling away at petty newstands the world over then the concept of hijab is quite lost.

    Islam today is more under threat from these moderate muslims and these so called enlightened momins. They prove a greater challenge and a more grave threat to Islam because when a muslim goes around doing such things people (esp young ones) immediatly think it must be right.

    Lets all write to such magazines and tell them that they must use their forums to promote islam the right way and avoid haram things.

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      May 26, 2009 at 10:05 AM

      very true brother tahir and i fully support your views that are pure Islamic views, ma sha’Allah.

  27. Avatar


    May 26, 2009 at 8:04 AM


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    May 26, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    I was wondering, is there any online magazine for muslimahs? if not, shouldn’t there be one? plus if you could give me a link to muslim sisters websites, it would be really appreciated.
    fee amaan Allah

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    May 28, 2009 at 12:40 AM

    assalam `alaykum

    Wonderful review, I agree with most of the comments made in support of your review on the magazine. I saw the magazine (most likely the same one) and I put it down myself for the same reasons you and br. Saaqib had mentioned.

    Re: Seemeen – if outside sources are allowed to be posted :)

    Here is an online site – which I personally know a few of the contributors. In light of all the comments, this may be something which some MM readers may enjoy reading by diverse authors.

    wa Allahu ta’ala a`alam.

    • Avatar


      May 28, 2009 at 2:38 PM

      Jazakallahu Khayrun
      i visited the website and it is a nice one.
      thank u once again :)

  30. Avatar


    May 29, 2009 at 6:16 AM

    ^^ really good video about Muslim women in the UK, and has an interview with the editor of SISTERS Magazine.

  31. Avatar

    PC Fan

    June 2, 2009 at 4:47 AM

    I completely agree with your review. It is what I thought as well, and it raised alot of questions for me about what this magazine was doing. JazakAllah Khair & thank-you for being honest.

    Its great that there are more Muslim products, Alhamdulillah, but businesses have to remember that Muslims shouldn’t be treated just as a consumer market to exploit.

    Theory of religion has to be applied correctly and be the basis of their function, if they are going to sell themselves as an “islamic” product/service.

  32. Avatar


    June 2, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    it’s unfortunate to see a woman’s face on a Muslim blog who has contributors that publicly tell people to lower their gaze….

    yet they fail to prevent an evil such as….

    even though this might be perceived as something minuscule, if people’s hearts have stopped cringing when they see the face of a woman(she;s not even fully hiding the shape of her body astaghfirAllah) in the name of being ‘Western’ and ‘American’, our deen is seriously in danger living in the West.

    not to forgot that this woman possibly actually modeled to be put on the cover of a magazine, allahu’Alam

    I almost never read Imam Anwar’s blog, but just the fact that this is happening and our hearts are dying and and our deen being lost very slowly, would make his case for Hijra stronger.

    • Avatar


      June 8, 2009 at 11:34 AM

      Never knew that a ‘woman’s face’ was something so shameful in our deen…

      • Avatar


        June 9, 2009 at 5:13 AM


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          June 14, 2012 at 9:00 PM

          Honestly, i think it’s degrading for a woman to hide her face all the time except for her husband. Women should be empowered, not treated like they should permanently be ashamed of their womanhood.

  33. Avatar


    June 2, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    some of the contributors are free to post here and forbid the evil…

    what’s wrong?

  34. Avatar

    ExEx Blogger

    June 2, 2009 at 5:18 PM


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    June 3, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    interesting, well instead of having Muslim sisters spending hours on Vogue,Femina, Bazaar why not have a decent magazine for them to spend time reading on, hint as long as it is “Decent” then i don’t see a problem in that….. that’s just my opinion and everyone is entitle to their own opinion…….

  36. Avatar


    June 4, 2009 at 3:42 AM

    I agree with this review, I read thru an issue of it once and was very disappointed in how low our standards have become for children.. subhan Allah!!

  37. Avatar


    June 4, 2009 at 11:59 PM


    Whoever compared Emel to MGM is off point. Emel is muslim owned and Muslim run and follows some serious standards. They do print pictures of women without hijabs if they are the focus of the article, but they don’t have women all decked out like MGM might (I have just seen one issue).

    I think MGM is an example of mainstream publishers taking notice of the Muslim Market and wanting to provide a quality product. You can’t expect non-muslims or non-practicising or non-islamically-trained individuals to understand shariah compliance for magazines.

    Emel and Islamica by far set the standards for what Muslim magazines ought to be like.

    • Avatar


      June 15, 2009 at 3:07 PM

      Sisters Magazine does it beautifully. :)

  38. Avatar


    June 6, 2009 at 1:04 PM

    If the review was about a Muslim men’s magazine there wouldnt be many comments from women as in the case here with men who are quick to point out what is wrong and rights about girl’s magazine.

    Muslim women are different and one single magazine cannot impress all.

    • Avatar


      June 8, 2009 at 5:40 AM

      don’t be bias ,when it comes to religion there is noting like that.probably the men are participating more than the women plus the women are the home builders so they need to lay good example.women/ladies where are you pls participate more

  39. Avatar

    Islamic School

    June 11, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    Muslim women are symbol for all other women.This magazine can do a lot.But also there should be some other initiative acts.So that we able to expand the Muslim culture.

  40. Avatar


    June 12, 2009 at 2:01 AM

    Muslims are commanded to abide by the Quran and Sunnah.

    The cover of the magazine speaks for itself and reflects on the content inside. There are two opinions regarding covering for women and this kind of show casing doesn’t meet any of the two’s conditions, not even the one where the opinion is that it is allowed to keep the face and hands open.

  41. Avatar


    June 14, 2009 at 10:35 PM

    I just wanted to say that i had the same exact experience with MGM and was I very sad and disappointed with it.:( The one issue i got had an article in it called “the boy next door” .I mean what do muslims have to do with dating any way? Also a muslim magazine should encourage girls to wear hijab, with all the pictures in it the were basically just saying oh you dont have to wear hijab. i understand that some girls are not comfortable wearing it but they should at least be encouraged to wear it. Inshallah someday someone will come out with a good clean Magazine for muslim teens.Ameen

  42. Avatar


    June 16, 2009 at 7:13 PM

    i dont see the huge problem about showing girls who dont wear hijab in the magazine, yeah of course hijab is fardh, but if a girl chooses not to wear it it’s her deal, if you are showing her picture for a reason or its in the magazine i dont see the issue.

    • Avatar


      June 17, 2009 at 5:56 AM

      our deen does not entail any bodys opinion ,if allah says be it becomes and no one can challenge allah.since you said wearing the hijab is fard and the magazine is an islamic magazine and they represent islam,theire stuff should not contain what allah did not ordain.this is a point of correction ther e is an issue please.

      • Avatar


        September 26, 2009 at 10:32 PM

        I think your right but still the muslim girls who do not wear the hijab have been brought up by muslim parents, so if this girl’s mother never orderd her, or if her father never orderd her its not all her fault.

  43. Avatar


    July 8, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    Salam to all,

    first of all, a woman’s face is nothing to be ‘ashamed’ of…instead it is the pride and honour given to her that requires her to cover it so that no pervert will dare take any action. muslims shouldn’t have any kind of inferiority complex about this issue…that only arises when they r influenced by the west. im sure if the west starts practising hijaab (lol…just an example) those ‘Muslims’ with very low self-esteem and confidence would b the first ones to follow it. and why would a woman want to beautify herself for ghair mahrams???

    @umm: u r right…the lady on the cover page is not properly covered. that is the first thing i noticed…but was very surprised that it was not taken into account by anyone…many Muslims these days believe that covering the hair alone is hijaab…honestly for a pervert other parts of the body are more alluring. do not change Islamic laws according to ur whims!!

    also a muslim girl should not show her zeenat and things that beautify her….the girl is clearly waring her visible to all…waring clothes that reveal her body shape.

    definitely not what i would ever call an ideal muslimah.

    @zainab…fully agree with u

  44. Avatar


    September 26, 2009 at 10:29 PM

    I actually bought one magazine and thought it was brilliant. You know its very hard being a teen girl in America with highschool teenagers being pressured to party, have sex, get a boyfriend, do drugs and many other things. I thought that reading the magazine made me a stronger person a stronger muslim and most of all have a stronger faith in Allah. I think the magazine is great and should continue publication for generatins and years to come. Its a great magazine and the fashion spread was also great becuase it allowed me to wear the hijab and be more modest in a fashinoable way (i.e without having to look like my mom lol). I thank the magazine and hope that more things better to come for the publication.


  45. Avatar


    January 7, 2010 at 2:08 AM

    I particularly enjoy Modest Beautiful Muslima Magazine. It makes me feel very empowered as a Muslim women and it does not shy away from our deen.

  46. Avatar


    March 29, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    I agree and also slightly disagree.

    1) Yes a majority of young Muslims do listen to music and such, but I also know a lot of sisters my age that avoids it. However, I realize that putting in a music section is really silly.. I am guilty of listening to music, but if I could find an alternative magazine that suits my life and Islam, I would not buy one that has music. In fact, I try my best to avoid the Hollywood glamour and music industry mess in America. Things like that just cause people to be busy doing things like stalking a celebrity’s every movement or so. Therefore, this magazine wouldn’t be for me if it contains music and worldy extravagance like expensive accessories and clothes. However, since it is available, any Muslimah can pick this up and read it as they wish. It’s just the content isn’t exactly 100% halaal and meeting Islamic standards.

    2) I am not a fan of seeing non-hijabi models, because sometimes, it causes weak people to just want to take off hijab and show their bodies. I have felt this way many times from music videos shown on tv and magazines. But this is not everyone, so I cannot condemn the magazine for something that affects everyone differently. Still, I think it’s a bad idea. I am not against non-hijabis (of course, I’m not!), but I think covered Muslimahs as models (without all those weird sexual poses) would be a better example, since in this case, non-hijabis would consider hijab and stop letting society/culture/etc. affect her problem of wearing it.

    3) If the magazine is well made and lives up to its price, then that’s wonderful. But I always flip through a magazine quickly to see if it’ something I would consider taking my time reading. But I think $16 USD is expensive for a magazine.. but yes we all agree that it is difficult for Muslimahs to find soemthing high in quality and content to suit them but with a big price tag. That is similar to paying for clothes at Shukr Online which most people would not do if they could find something cheaper. At the same time, you have discussed the negative points of this magazine filled with somewhat makrooh and haraam content.

    4) Also, I agree with others here. Even with it’s fairly makrooh content, it IS much better than things such as Seventeen magazine, Vogue, Glamour, etc. So if we think about it, we kind of help Muslimahs out, especially the teenage ones that are going through a phase. InshaAllah, the MGM will go into a phase where it will soon acquire much better content and without music and such.

    5) I have seen a lot of magazines, and by far, I think SISTERS magazine seems to be top-notch by content and theme. Even these magazines’ websites tell a lot about their magazine. SISTERS magazine is purely well made, the graphics and images are beautiful, and sometimes depict the peaceful feeling like candles and flowers. It doesn’t exactly need humans to show the magazine it’s brilliant. It also discusses more than just fashion and a slight topic on health; it has content on the environment, marriage, health, emaan, and helping a Muslimah with everyday issues.

    I do not work for them, but it’s a magazine that I actual read compared to a lot of other ones out there. It fascinates me, and their sub-site Islamic Design House has a lot of nice items, but a bit too expensive for me. It’s already in UK pounds, imagine how much that costs in USD.

  47. Avatar


    June 11, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    I would just like to make a comment to all of the people saying “this is a good alternative to vogue, cosmo, etc etc”…

    Why can’t we reach higher and better? Why should we settle for a magazine that promotes some objectionable material? In Islam, you cannot use the haraam for a higher good…we have submitted to this religion and the laws of Allah(swt), so let’s stick to the halaal and try to come out with some magazines that appeal to young American Muslim sisters and have barakah in their reading and selling by promoting the halal and the halal only.

    I totally understand why people are saying that…but I say, let’s be more creative, let’s not imitate the haraam elements of mainstream magazines.

    By the grace of Allah(swt), I know we can do it!

  48. Avatar


    June 16, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    i am not shore that is is a good like a muslim girl magazine first for shore we have to go on and see what are the things that they are promoting and then for shore we can comment

  49. Avatar


    June 14, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    I’m sorry but I
    totally disagree with this article. I think the magazine was a great form of
    interfaith mediation–for example, by explaining that not all Muslims are
    hardcore fundamentalists. This magazine was also a great stepping stone for
    young Muslim girls who were not comfortable with overtly showing their
    Muslimhood in America to reconsider their obligation to Islam as a priority.

    I’m sorry but the author of this article has the wrong
    impression of this magazine. The magazine wasn’t meant to be a portable Imam
    that you take everywhere with you, it was a tool for struggling young muslimahs
    to get reacquainted with their faith and non Muslims to understand the
    diversity among Muslim girls.

  50. Avatar


    July 23, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    I really have to agree with Sarah below– “the magazine wasn’t meant to be a portable Imam”– very true. Muslim sisters around the world are at entirely different stages in their development, and many feel intimidated by Islam as they see it. Something like this magazine, featuring fun, uplifting content that doesn’t try to judge them or tell them what to do– well, these are the touch stones that allow confused and intimidated sisters to move a little closer to Islam in a way that is comfortable for them. Personally, if I had a daughter, I would be happy for her to read something like this.

  51. Avatar


    October 27, 2012 at 12:43 AM

    Totally agree with you on that it’s impressive because it is ground-breaking; but people get influenced by what they’re exposed to, each to a more or lesser degree. Understanding the point of bringing someone closer to Islam in increments, on the contrary, it’s difficult to learn and unlearn ideas and behaviors…learn it from the source and make dua. After that, freedom of choice and will.

  52. Avatar


    February 17, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    Where I can buy this magazine? I need it very much

  53. Avatar


    August 19, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    i completely agree with you because Muslims women are symbol for others women.

  54. Avatar

    Hasan Kamal

    February 26, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Its a nice magazine for the women. It is full of informative material and helps women to keep them straight.

  55. Avatar

    Learn Quraan

    June 1, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    very good magazine for our muslimah sisters. I have another suggestion for muslimah who want to learn Quran at comfort of your home.

  56. Avatar


    January 12, 2015 at 12:36 PM

    Masha Allah
    Muslim women are symbol for all other women.This magazine can do a lot.But also there should be some other initiative acts.So that we able to expand the Muslim culture.

  57. Avatar

    Pat redman

    September 9, 2016 at 1:57 AM

    Creative comments , Just to add my thoughts if others are searching for a WI DHS F-1008 , I edited a fillable version here

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Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Omar Usman




I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

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To Kill a Muslim – Part 1

Yahya noticed the obscene gesture that the man across the street gave him, but he ignored it, and chose not to tell his wife Samira. He knew how deep racism ran in these small towns. He would just have to be patient.




1. Ragheads

Rotting wooden porch steps

Nursing a warm beer, Chad sat on the ramshackle front porch with the rotting steps and peeling paint. His hand clenched tightly the beer can as he watched the filthy camel hugging family move in across the street. Liquid sloshed over his fist.

It was unbelievable. This was Alhambra, a white town in America. Trump’s America. Making America great again, putting the freaks and coloreds back in their places. Sure, there were wetbacks in Alhambra – you couldn’t escape them in California – but there were hardly any blacks, and there were certainly no terrorist camel huggers.

Until now. There they were across the street and two houses down, unloading a trailer hooked to a silver Honda Accord. It was a whole family of ragheads – a woman with her stupid oppressed scarf on her head, a little boy and girl, and the father. Chad studied the man with contempt. The guy was tall, maybe 6’1 or 6’2, and black. Well, maybe he was African or some such, ‘cause he wore one of those long, colorful African shirts. His skin was mud colored, and his hair was short under that stupid beanie. He was skinny though. Chad was pretty sure he could kick the guy’s ass. The man noticed Chad looking and waved. Chad flipped him the bird. The man frowned and went on moving his crap.

Chad spent a lot of time sitting on the porch nowadays, ever since he’d been fired from his loss prevention job at Walmart. That still made his jaw clench and his vision go red every time he thought about it. Some black dude – a gangbanger no doubt – had tried to shoplift box of tampons, of all things, and Chad stopped him. A scuffle ensued. Chad recovered the tampons, but the banger got away. And Walmart fired him. Said he’d violated the terms of service of his employment, which required no physical engagement of any kind. You were supposed to ask the thief to return the goods, but if they refused you were not supposed to stop them, follow them, or “engage” in any way, due to the liability to other customers if the encounter turned violent.

So the shade goes off scot-free, and Chad gets fired. A law abiding, hard working, white American gets fired for doing the right thing. It made him want to smash something. Actually it made him want to smash someone, ideally his Filipino woman boss at Walmart, but any foreigner would do.

So here he was, twenty two and unemployed, nothing but a high school diploma to his name, sitting on his mom’s porch. All his old high school friends had jobs and girlfriends. Some even had wives. A couple had gone to college.

It wasn’t right. His life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. He’d been a track star in high school – hundred meters and hurdles – and was supposed to have gone to college on a scholarship, but he’d blown out his knee, and they’d all abandoned him. It was like, if you weren’t of use to people, they didn’t give a crap about you. You were disposable. Blood sucking leeches. They’d given his spot on the track team to a black kid, a sophomore. Kid probably couldn’t even read. Was that piece of crap out there now, living the life that should have been Chad’s? How could this happen in Trump’s America? That was the problem, that it hadn’t been Trump’s America back then. It had been Barack Hussein’s America, the Commie Muslim traitor, damn his terrorist soul.

He seethed with the unfairness of it. He was no genius, he knew that. But he’d been a good runner, talented. He’d had the opportunity to make something of himself, to be the first in his family to go to college. He could have been more than his parents. A teacher maybe, or even a lawyer. His mother survived on welfare and what she could beg, borrow or steal from her string of boyfriends.

As for his dad, sure, Chad admired him in some ways – the man had been a shot caller in the Aryan Nation prison gang, able to point a finger and have another man killed. He’d been looked up to and respected. And he’d taught Chad what it meant to be a proud white man, standing up for your race and not taking any crap from coloreds. But let’s face it, Dad had spent 90% of his adult life in prison, and in the end had died the way he lived, with a knife in his gut. That wasn’t what Chad wanted for himself.

Plus, if Chad was being honest, he’d evolved beyond this father’s way of thinking. His father always used to say that the coloreds – no matter the shade – were filthy and inferior and should all be eliminated, even if that meant a race war across the face of America. It was a certainty, according to him, that the race war was coming. RaHoWa, he used to call it – Racial Holy War. The coloreds were secretly plotting to wipe out white America. It was an assault on the white, Christian values that had built everything worldwide in the modern world.

But when Chad had worked at Walmart he’d been forced to work with people of all colors and even folks from other countries like Filipinos and Chinks. He´d asked a few of them about RaHoWa, trying to find out about their plans to destroy the white race, but they seemed genuinely clueless. Chad slowly realized that RaHoWa was a myth, and that the coloreds were ordinary people like himself. They liked the same sports teams he did, played the same video games, watched the same shows. Yeah, they ate some weird crap and some of them smelled different, and their music was garbage. And they weren’t as smart of course. That was a fact. White people were the smartest, they had invented everything. That was why they ran the world. But the point was that the coloreds weren’t evil.

He had come to the conclusion that what was needed was not a race war, but separation. Let the coloreds live in their own neighborhoods and go to their own schools. Let them marry their own women and breed their own brats. And Chad and the white people would do the same. Live and let live. Not the Filipino bitch who fired him of course, he still wanted to bust her head open. But the others, yeah.

But the Muzzies – the Islamics – that was a different story. They were terrorist, cult following traitors. Not normal people. Muzzies were evil and sick in the head. Everybody said so. Plus, they lied as part of their sicko religion. It was called takaya or some crap. What kind of twisted bullcrap was that? They beheaded people, for Christ’s sake. If you were Christian in their country they would cut off your head with a hunting knife. They were devil worshipers. They should all either be kicked out of the country or killed. Period. And then Mecca should be nuked, and that would be the end of it.

But instead of taking care of business, the government was letting them go around like normal people. Even Trump had wimped out. The evidence was right in front of Chad’s eyes. Ragheads in his neighborhood, on his street. It was insane. How could terrorists go around openly showing off their rags? Where was Homeland Security? That was a good idea, actually. See something, say something, right? He took his phone out of his pocket and called 911.

2. Moving Day

Yahya Mtondo noticed the young man across the street staring. He waved, and when the fellow gave him an obscene gesture in return he frowned. In the old days – that is to say, in his angry and lost years of his youth – he would have marched straight over there and punched the man in the face, and damn the consequences. But he wasn’t that man anymore. So here merely shook his head and turned back to the job of moving.

His wife Samira must have noticed his expression. “What’s wrong habibi?”

He forced a smile. “Nothing’s at all, mchumba wangu.” Usually he called her mpenzi wangu – my love. But when he wanted to tease her he called her mchumba wangu, my homemaker. It was actually a term of endearment in his native Kenya, or at least it was what his dad always used to call his mom, may Allah have mercy on them. But he knew it annoyed Samira. In any case, he wasn’t going to tell her about the young man across the street. Samira tended to worry – she even had anxiety attacks sometimes – and he didn’t want to give her anything more to stress over.

“Just tired from the fast,” he added. “But I love it. I feel so light and free. I’m a bird doing loop de loops. Oooh!” He spread his arms. “My feathers are as cool as ice.”

Samira rolled her eyes. “You’re such a nut.”

He had not been crazy about the idea of moving to this poor, mostly white enclave in Central California, about twenty miles northeast of Fresno. He knew from experience how deep racism often ran in such towns. And he had two strikes against him in these people’s eyes, since he was both African and Muslim. Not that he was ashamed. He was proud of his Kenyan heritage, and was grateful that Allah had guided him to Islam.

They were here because his wife had just completed her medical residency in Fort Worth, Texas, where they’d moved from, and Alhambra Community Hospital had unexpectedly offered her a fellowship in her specialty of oncology. The salary was not spectacular, but it was better than she’d earned as a resident. Between that and his income as a rideshare driver, plus the low property values here in Alhambra, they’d been able to buy a house for the first time, alhamdulillah – thanks to God for all His blessings.

Craftsman bungalow cottage

The best part of all was that there was no ribaa involved. No interest. They’d gone through a group called Central Valley Islamic Finance, which helped qualified Muslims to buy cars and homes without interest. Yahya was deeply relieved about that. He ́d made plenty of mistakes in life, but so far he’d managed to avoid the sin of ribaa, sometimes making great sacrifices in the process.

It felt like an achievement. He could see himself on Yawm Al-Qiyamah – the Day of Resurrection – standing before some great angel who held in his hand a parchment listing Yahya´s sins, each with a small checked box: anger, resentment, cursing, jealousy, ingratitude, and more. But then Yahya ́s eyes would settle on the one little unchecked box – Ribaa. He would point to it excitedly, saying, ̈Look, look!̈ And he ́d hope that it might perhaps, offer him a chance for safety on that Day.

It was pretty sad, he knew, when avoiding a major sin was your last chance for salvation. Welcome to the 21st century. Or maybe that was a cop-out. He sighed.

̈Come on babe, tell me. What is it?̈ His sweaty-faced wife touched his cheek. She was always so alert to any sign of inner turbulence on his part.

He smiled. ¨Nothing.¨

She slid her arm through his. ̈Look at our house. Our house. SubhanAllah.¨

He set down the box he had tucked under one arm and studied the house. 701 Minarets Avenue. They had taken the street name as a sign. Their own little homestead, their own piece of earth – of course it all belonged to Allah, but it was theirs to care for. He would import a few elephants and a lion and call it Little House on the Serengeti. He chuckled at his own joke.

The house was small for a family of four – only 1,100 square feet. But it was cute – a little Craftsman bungalow built in 1901, painted teal with white trim, and featuring a small covered veranda to relax on when the weather go too hot, as it often did here in Central California. The yard was planted with wildflowers and native shrubs, while an immense magnolia tree grew in the front yard, casting shade over most of the house, its thick, waxy leaves glowing deep emerald in the morning sun. Some sort of songbird trilled from deep in the tree, praising God in its own language. Yahya loved it.

As an added bonus, Samira’s family lived in Los Angeles, only a four hour drive from here.

Allah the Most High had opened a door for them, and they’d walked through, taking the path that the Most Wise chose for them. Yahya knew in his heart that there would be good in this path, or Allah would not have set them upon it. That was trust, tawakkul. Doing your best, then putting your life in Allah’s hands and trusting Him to bring you through whatever obstacles you faced. Tawakkul was not, as some thought, naivete. Yahya had not lived an easy life. He ́d experienced terrible tragedies, and had walked through trench and terror, metaphorically speaking, just to stay alive. No, tawakkul was a choice and a mindset. It was faith.

As for the young man across the street, Yahya would make an effort to reach out to the neighbors, get to know them. Weren’t Muslims commanded to be kind to their neighbors? Only through kindness could an enemy become a friend.

He kissed his wife on the temple and bent down wearily to pick up the box.This was Ramadan, and Yahya’s energy level was at rock bottom. He hadn’t taken any food or water in many hours. Fortunately, all the family’s possessions fit into a small U-Haul trailer, and the moving was nearly done. That was one advantage of being poor, he thought wryly. It made moving easier.

Ten minutes later, hefting a 6-foot bookshelf and turning, he almost tripped over Sulayman, his four-year-old son, who had picked up a table fan by the cord. Yahya resisted the temptation to chide the boy. The irritability he felt was a byproduct of his hunger and weariness from the fast. Part of the challenge of Ramadan was to overcome that irritability and replace it with compassion. Instead of anger, to give love. Instead of resentment, to exercise generosity. Instead of self-absorption, to expand your sphere of concern to include your family, neighbors, the community, the Muslim ummah, and finally the world. That was Ramadan, and that was Islam.

Sulayman and his three-year-old sister Amirah were only trying to help in their little way. But yeah, they were getting underfoot. He was about to suggest they go play inside the house when he heard sirens approaching. It sounded like there were a lot of them, and they were close. Curious, he set the bookshelf down in the driveway. The sirens kept getting louder, and a moment later a black-and-white Alhambra police cruiser careened around the corner, then another right behind it, tires squealing. Yahya didn’t know what was going on – a burglary in the neighborhood, or a domestic dispute maybe? – but he wanted his family out of harm’s way.

“Samira,” he said urgently. “Take the kids into the house, please. Right away.” His wife had also paused to see the source of the commotion. She stood near the front door of the house, her hands gripping tightly on the box of dinnerware she was carrying. Like him, she was tall – about 5’10” to his 6’1” – and though she was Palestinian, her skin was a beautiful shade of brown that fell somewhere between copper and mahogany. Her purple hijab concealed long black hair that she typically wore loose beneath her scarf.

While Yahya was quiet and contemplative, Samira could be loud. She had a laugh that rang out, and a smile that stretched a mile wide. People were drawn to her brash and bubbly personality. Only those who knew her best understood the insecurities and worries that she hid beneath that bright and happy laugh.

As the wailing sirens mounted Samira dropped the box. Whatever was inside shattered when it hit the ground. She scooped up the kids, lifting them bodily off the ground, and disappeared inside the house.

Cop with gun drawn

What on earth? What had gotten into her? Yahya was about to go after her when the police cars skidded to a halt in the street in front of his own home. Doors were thrown open, and officers kneeled behind them, pointing their guns at his house. Yahya looked around in confusion. Was a fugitive hiding in his yard?

“Put your hands on your head,” someone bellowed through a loudspeaker, “and get down on your knees!”

Again Yahya looked around. Surely they did not mean him?

“You with the hat and the beard! Put your hands on your head and get down on your knees! This is your last warning!”

SubhanAllah, they did mean him! He considered protesting or at least asking for clarification. Then he looked at the barrels of the firearms pointing at him, one of which was bright yellow for some reason – some kind of phaser pistol? he thought crazily – and realized this was not the time for anything less than obedience. Moving slowly so as not to alarm the cops, he put his hands on his head and went down to his knees. Two offers charged forward, their weapons trained on Yahya’s chest. One pulled his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, then shoved him forward. He fell, turning his face to the side at the last second and striking his cheek on the driveway. The impact made him grunt in pain. He thought he heard the muffled cries of his wife or children from inside the house. They were probably watching through the window.

This was not something he would have ever wanted them to see. He struggled to rise up, to say to the officers, “Come on now, what’s this all about?” He was not personally afraid. It was never his way to be afraid of people or the things people did. He was good with God and trusted in the path. He just didn’t want his children to see their father being treated this way.

The cops tased him. He didn’t understand at that moment what was happening. Every muscle in his body seized in a terrible cramp. His limbs thrashed uncontrollably and his torso flopped like a dying fish on the floor of a boat. His vision went red as agonizing pain blasted his consciousness. He still heard his family screaming, and in the distance he heard laughter as well – triumphant, mocking laughter. The agony seemed to go on forever, then vanished without a trace, leaving no remainder of pain.

He regained control of himself and turned his head to look at the officers. The one who’d tased him stood rigid, his arms in a classic firing pose, his muscles quivering. He was young and slender, pasty white with red hair and a prematurely receding hairline. What Yahya noticed most of all, however, was that the man was petrified. His eyes were wide with fear. SubhanAllah, what was he so afraid of? He was staring as if Yahya were some mythical monster laying in the driveway, like an abominable snowman. Except he wasn’t an abominable snowman. He was an abominable Muslim, apparently.

“Hey,” Yahya said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. “It’s alright. I’m not-”

“Shut up, faggot!” one of the officers bellowed, and once again the electricity coursed through him. He spasmed and fell hard, striking his mouth this time. Then he felt hard objects hitting him, striking his legs and back. A hammering blow clapped the side of his head, and darkness descended upon his mind.

* * *

Next: Part 2 – The Black Jesus

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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Gravedigger: A Short Story

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own.




fight, life, death, grave

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own. She couldn’t take much more. Her left leg was swollen and numb, her ribs deeply bruised, and blood poured into her eyes from a cut on her forehead.

MMA ringShe never saw the blow that knocked her out. She crashed to the blood-spattered canvas, mouth open and drooling, dimly aware of the referee shielding her. A roaring sound like an avalanche filled her ears, and knew it was the sound of the crowd cheering her opponent. This was her sixth loss in the last two years, and the fourth by knockout. She’d once been the seventh ranked female bantamweight fighter in the world, but she was done. Twenty seven years old and washed up, her MMA career was over.

Was it for this that Baba – her father – had fled Iraq with her when she was twelve, leaving behind the land where his wife and son – her mother and older brother – had been slaughtered? Was it for this that he gave up his work as a radiologist to work as a janitor in Los Angeles, somehow managing to pay for her English and karate lessons?

And how had she repaid him? Other Arab-American children became doctors and engineers, but Ghada dropped out of college, driven by her passion for martial arts. The fighting ring was the only place where she felt completely in control of her destiny. Life delivered one crushing blow after another – losing loved ones, loneliness, grief – but in the ring, standing over her opponent in triumph, life was powerless to harm her. Only in the ring did she feel in control, secure.

She wouldn’t have blamed Baba for being disappointed in her, but he’d been proud, even when the local Arab community criticized him for letting his daughter adopt immoral ways. He dropped in on her training sessions and hung news stories about her on the wall. Unlike many fighters Ghada had no nickname, and Baba used to teasingly say that she should call herself The Saracen, or The Arab Assassin. As if she needed to call attention to her heritage. She already received death threats from Americans and Arabs alike. The only thing Baba would not do was attend her fights. He couldn’t bear to see her getting hit. Baba also supported her financially until she began to win, at which point she bought him a little house in Eagle Rock with a garden that he tended lovingly.

Then he died, his heart giving out on a cold January morning as he raked the leaves in the yard, while Ghada was away at training camp. Her shame at having neglected him was a worse blow than any she’d ever taken in the ring.

Someone gripped her arm. Sibni, she thought in Arabic, her cheek glued to the canvas, her braided black hair soaking up blood. Let me be. But the coach pulled her up and mopped her face as the cut man pressed the freezing end-swell disc into her forehead to stanch the flow of blood. She hung her head, not wanting to see the faces of the leering crowd, many of them overjoyed to see the Arab bitch lose. So much hate she’d faced. All for nothing.

She remembered being surprised at how many people came to Baba’s funeral. Arabs and other members of the Muslim community – Pakistanis, Indians, African-Americans, and the odd Latino or white convert – stood in rows to pray.  Non-Muslims came as well, approaching her to offer their condolences. She didn’t know most of them. They spoke of her father’s generosity or his guidance. While she’d been focused on training, Baba had intertwined with many lives, touching many hearts. That should have been comforting, but it only reminded her that she hadn’t been there enough to truly know him. She hadn’t been involved. Her grief was a thunderstorm in her head and would not let up. She skipped training sessions, lived on instant noodles and delivery pizza, slept past noon every day and lost fight after fight, unable to win the outer battles while the inner ones raged.

Now that her career was finally over, she fell into a pit of despair. She stopped bathing, washing the dishes, and paying the bills. Late notices came. Sometimes the doorbell rang and people called to her. A few times she recognized the voices of Farah and Summer, two Muslim friends she’d had in high school. They’d drifted away after she became an MMA fighter. Or had she pushed them away, preempting the threat of their rejection? They’d attended a few of her fights as well – she’d seen them in the front rows, cheering. She’d always refused to acknowledge them, fearing that they were there to judge her. They both wore hijab after all, while she was out in front of the world wearing knee-length shorts and a lycra shirt, making a spectacle of herself. So she’d deliberately avoided them, not meeting their eyes when she left the ring after the fights.

Sometimes she thought about killing herself. She resisted the idea, knowing it was against her religion and everything her father had taught her. But… there was no way forward. She was an unemployed college drop-out, finished in her career, alone in the world, and – judging from the unopened late notices she was receiving from the state – about to lose her father’s house for non-payment of taxes.

One miserable night, unable to sleep and equally unable to bear her own thoughts, she walked into the kitchen. Roaches scattered. Filthy dishes stewed in the sink. In the middle of the room stood a small table and two folding chairs. Her father used to sit there when he read the newspaper and paid the bills. Why had he kept two chairs there? Perpetually waiting – hoping – for Ghada to return home and join him at that little table? Atop the table stood a glass vase filled with desiccated morning glories. Those same dead flowers had been there since Baba died.

Kitchen knifeShe went to the cutlery drawer and took out a large steel vegetable knife. Her father always kept the knives sharp. She placed the tip against the inside of her left wrist. She would make a long, deep cut, then she’d do the other arm. Then she’d lie down in bed and wait for it to be over.

She pressed the tip of the knife into her wrist. It broke the skin and blood welled up, running in a rivulet into her palm and dripping from her middle finger. It was time to die.

Except… she could not make her hand move. She could not go further. An inner voice said, “This isn’t right. There’s always another way, a better way. You’re a fighter. Don’t give up now.” She ignored that voice and cut a little further. Blood began to pour now, running down her wrist and hand and spattering onto the kitchen floor. Her arms trembled. One of her elbows bumped the vase on the table. It tipped over, rolled off the table and shattered into a hundred fragments.

A memory came to her in a flash. She was a child in Baghdad, in the small villa they’d called home. Mama was standing on a stepladder, removing a burnt-out fluorescent bulb – the long kind – from the ceiling fixture. She handed it down to Ghada, who was her assistant in everything, whether cooking, cleaning or home repair. “Pass me the new one,” Mama said.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” exclaimed tousle-haired Ibrahim, her younger brother. Before Ghada could stop him he snatched up the new bulb from where it leaned against the wall – and dropped it. Slivers of glass exploded across the floor. Both children froze, expecting to be punished. Their cat, Halawa, came padding in to investigate the commotion. Mama sighed and instructed Ghada to put Halawa in the bathroom before she cut her paws. It was the only room with a door, since the others had only curtains in the doorways. As they all worked to clean the broken glass, Halawa kept crying to be let out. Ghada felt bad for the cat, but it was for the kitty’s own good. When they were finally finished and released the cat she trotted out with her tail high, giving them all an accusing look.

Later, Mama said, “What we did with Halawa is a metaphor for how Allah protects us.”

“What’s a metaphor?” Ibrahim wanted to know.

“An example. Sometimes we feel trapped in our situations. We can’t find a way out. We cry and complain, not understanding why Allah has closed the doors. Our vision is small, so we don’t see the broken glass all around. We don’t realize that we are exactly where we need to be in that moment, and that Allah is protecting us. But if we are patient, the door will open when the time is right.”

Remembering this now, remembering her dear, patient mother, and imagining what her mother would say if she could see her daughter in this moment, Ghada cried out and dropped the knife, which fell to the floor with a clatter. Her entire body trembled, with what emotion she could not say. She would wait. She would… try something. What, she did not know.

She left the house for the first time in two weeks and went to visit her father’s grave. It was located in a sprawling, hilly cemetery that belonged to the city of Los Angeles. She sat on the grass of his grave and wept, fingering the plaque set into the ground. Sami Daoud Aziz, beloved husband and father. She tried to speak to him or pray over him, but no words came.

On her way out she saw a sign on the gate: Help Wanted. She saved the number in her phone and called it the next morning. The cemetery was looking for a full-time gravedigger. The job paid $15 per hour plus benefits. It was no fortune, but it might allow her to pay the bills, and more importantly she’d be close to Baba. She applied and was accepted.

For the first six months there was hardly a day when she did not think about quitting. The work was grueling, even harder than MMA training. Even as a full time fighter she’d only trained four hours per day. The rest of it was just healthy eating, watching and analyzing training videos, and getting nine hours of sleep every night.

This job, on the other hand, was what she imagined when a convict was sentenced to “hard labor.” Not that the environment was forbidding – it was actually extraordinarily beautiful. But this was a green cemetery, which is why the graves were hand dug. There was no gas-powered machinery of any kind, and only two maintenance workers for this entire, sprawling cemetery – herself and Dave, the groundskeeper. No embalming chemicals – Ghada learned all this in time – were used in burials, nor any grave liners or vaults. Only shrouds or biodegradable wooden caskets. Wildflowers were allowed to proliferate freely. Songbirds, squirrels and deer could be seen roaming the grounds, and butterflies were everywhere. With oak and bay trees covering the slopes, it looked more like a natural woodland than a traditional cemetery.

On a typical day Ghada had to dig two or three graves, which meant a full eight or nine hours of digging. She’d wake up in the morning with her muscles still aching from the previous day. At first her hands blistered, then they bled. Finally they grew calloused.

The plus side to the job was that she was close to Baba. She’d sit on his grave every day at lunchtime, sometimes crying, sometimes praying, sometimes just talking to him. Was this morbid? Was she psychologically damaged, unable to let go of the past? She didn’t know. She only knew that being near her father comforted her.

Time passed. She paid off her bills. Her muscles stopped aching. Her almond colored skin darkened to cafe-au-lait from working in the sun every day. And she stopped crying. She began to pray again and to fast in the holy month of Ramadan, two things she hadn’t done since she was a teenager. Her own transformation amazed her at times. She thought back to the night she’d pressed the knife to her wrist. Was it Allah who’d put that memory in her head at that moment – the memory of her cat Halawa and the broken glass? Regardless, alhamdulillah – all praise to God.

* * *

baba, death, suicide,She tossed the last spadeful of dirt and mopped her brow. The sun was straight overhead, illuminating even the inside of the grave. Unhooking a tape measure from her belt, she checked the grave. One shovel deep, two and a half feet wide by seven long. Industry standard. Satisfied, she tossed the shovel out and leaped out of the grave, tucking and rolling as she cleared the top. Time for lunch.

The back east acre was screened by a row of pines. Management kept the maintenance equipment in a shed back here, but there was a narrow stretch of clear grass. Ghada always spent the first half of her break practicing martial arts here. It was something she’d come back to this year. She wasn’t training for anything. It was movement for the sake of movement. Running through footwork and strikes, angling in and out, the workout left her physically energized and as emotionally serene as a summer sky. She hadn’t been in a gym in two years, so she worked on fundamentals, sometimes combining the moves she already knew in inventive ways.

Later, sitting on the grass of Baba’s grave, she unwrapped the ‘eggah sandwich she’d prepared that morning. It was a dish her mother had taught her to make – a patty formed from a blend of eggs, broccoli and cheese, served in pita bread with a hummus spread. With it she had a cup of hasa al-khadr – vegetable soup spiced with ginger, garlic, cilantro and cumin. Eating these traditional foods made her feel that she was carrying on her cultural heritage in some way, and also kept her healthy for the extreme labor of this job.

The warm sunshine on her face felt pleasant. The air smelled of bay leaves and wild roses. Two squirrels chased each other around a tree and up and down the trunk. Watching them, Ghada smiled. Life was good. It amazed and pleased her that she could think this. The only thing lacking in her life was companionship. She had no family, no friends. She was all alone in the world.

As if disproving her assertion, Dave the groundskeeper sauntered over from where he’d been digging out a patch of invasive broom grass. He carried his lunch bag in one hand and thermos in the other. Ghada didn’t mind. Nearing forty, tall but stoop shouldered, Dave was harmless, not to mention married. He and his wife June were MMA fans. He’d been thrilled to meet her when she first started, as he’d seen her fight when she was in her prime. He kept telling her she should be coaching fighters, not digging graves. She always shrugged this off. Maybe someday. The fighting world felt too much like the bad old days – though, if she was honest with herself, there was still a part of her that wondered how far she could have gone as a fighter if Baba had not died.

They ate in silence for a while. This was one of the things she liked about Dave. The two of them were well attuned to each other’s moods.

“You don’t talk to your dad much anymore,” Dave said. He nodded to her father’s plaque.

Ghada remembered how she used to sit here and confess her sins, sometimes weeping, sometimes telling Baba haltingly about her life, as if she expected him to condemn her failings. Why had she thought that? He’d never condemned her in life, after all. He’d done nothing but love her. My shining star, he used to call her.

“I’ve said it all.”

“So you two are good?”

She smiled. “Yeah.”

“You’ve changed since you started here.”

“No kidding. I don’t wake up with my limbs aching like I just ran a marathon. I remember when digging a single grave was exhausting. Blisters everywhere, my back sore, everything.”

“Not just that. You’re peaceful.”

She nodded. “It’s this job.” She waved a hand at a bluejay that sat on the branch of a nearby oak tree, watching them and waiting for crumbs, no doubt. “Life amid death, you know? It’s a constant reminder to live in the moment.”

Her phone rang. That was odd. No one ever called her. She dug it out of her pocket and looked at it, then frowned. It was her coach. She hadn’t spoken to him in two years. For a moment she thought of not taking the call. But that was the old Ghada. The new Ghada had nothing to fear from the past. “You sure you have the right number?” she greeted him, then listened as he spoke. “I’ll get back to you,” she said when he was done. “I know. Give me a half hour.”

“What was that about?” Dave asked. “You look like you’ve seen a dead body.” He grinned at his own joke. Funerals were a part of daily life here.

She said nothing.

“You’re scaring me, kiddo.”

“Sorry. You know the WFC? The World Fighting Championship?”

“Of course. You know I’m a fan. There’s an event tonight. June and I are going.”

“Oh. Well, the woman who was supposed to fight against Viviani Silva had an injury. They want me to fight her.”

It was Dave’s turn to gape. “Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva? That’s a title fight!”

“No one else wants it on such short notice. Or if they do, they’re too far away.”

“Man! Wait ‘til I tell June. She’ll freak out.”

Ghada put up a hand. “I haven’t said I’ll do it. Listen, do you mind leaving me alone for a bit?”

“Sure.” He scooped up his lunch and hurried off, no doubt to call his wife.

She ran a hand through the grass of her father’s grave. She was not afraid. Where once the storm had raged inside her, now she was the eye. “But Baba,” she said aloud. “That’s not my life anymore.”

Does the dream still live inside you? came his reply. If so then seize it, habibti, my love, my shining star.

* * *

“I owe you big time for taking this.” Her coach hustled her into the arena. “No one expects you to win, okay? All you have to do is put on a show. Flash that Aziz spirit, try to make it through the first round. Even if you lose you make fifty grand. You look fit at least. Better than the last time I saw you.”

Not much of a pep talk, Ghada thought. To hell with him if that was all he thought of her. She’d fight, but for herself, not for her coach or anyone else. Oddly, the thought of the fight itself excited her more than the $50,000 purse. What did she need $50K for anyway? She had everything she needed in life. What thrilled her was the opportunity to plunge into combat once again, to hit and be hit in a battle that was mental and emotional even more than physical. Those electric, brutal, and vivid minutes in which she was more fully alive than 99.99% of human beings.

Five minutes later she stood on the scale at the weigh-in, fight officials all around and press bulbs flashing. Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva had already weighed in, but was there to check out the competition. The thick-jawed, heavily tattooed woman postured and called out insults. She looked exotic and mean in her skin-tight short-shorts and halter top.

Ghada, on the other hand, wore her usual knee-length shorts and a form fitting long sleeved shirt. It was her concession to Islamic modesty and she knew it was insufficient, but it was the best she could do in the ring. Her jet black hair was braided in cornrows, close to the scalp. She ignored The Monster and let out a slow breath, unperturbed. She saw surprise on the faces of the officials. Did they remember the out of shape, emotionally depressed wreck of a fighter from two years ago? Her eyes flicked to the wall mirror, curious to see herself as they saw her. Standing 5’7”, she weighed in at 133 pounds. That was near the upper weight limit for a bantamweight, but there was not an ounce of fat on her. Her legs were rock solid and rippling with muscle, her arms powerful and well defined even through the shirt, her shoulders like two small boulders. She looked like a granite statue. The gravedigging, she realized. Digging graves was the most physically taxing thing she’d ever done. When she’d first started she couldn’t dig a single grave without resting multiple times. Now she could dig for ten hours, wake up the next day and do it again, as easy as babaganoush. She’d never been stronger in her life, both physically and emotionally.

She looked to The Monster and saw a flicker of doubt on the woman’s face. The hair stood up on Ghada’s arms. I’m going to win this fight. The premonition hit her like the light of the summer sun, leaving no room for doubt. She was going to win. She was going to become the next women’s bantamweight champion of the world.

What would she do after that? Would she continue to fight, or become a coach as Dave was always telling her to do? Or would she go back to digging graves? She didn’t know. But she was sure she was going to win. She could feel it in her bones, as surely as her ancestors had been able to feel the approach of a sandstorm or the coming of the rain.

Someone called out her name. She looked over the crowd and spotted Farah and Summer at the back of the crowd of spectators. They grinned and waved. How had they known she would be here? In the past she would have looked away, not wanting to acknowledge them. But this time she smiled and waved, genuinely happy to see them. Their faces lit up and they shrieked as if they’d just met a celebrity.

The fight announcer approached, shook her hand. “Do you have a nickname you want me to use when I announce you?” he asked.

Ghada’s smile spread into a grin. Then she laughed out loud. “Sure. Call me Gravedigger.”


* * *

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. Wael’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on

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